Designed as "an expeditionary force for a geologic assault1
" on the Moon’s Hadley Rille
, Apollo 15
was a groundbreaking lunar mission. Designed to be devoted entirely to scientific exploration, it included a number of notable firsts: first to land outside of the lunar mare
; first 3 day stay on the moon
; first use of the Lunar Rover
by Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot Jim Irwin; first use of the Scientific Instrument Module
, used by Command Module Pilot Al Worden to study the moon from lunar orbit; and first launch of a subsatellite
, used to map the plasma, particle and magnetic fields of the moon. On top of that, Scott gave a visual proof
of Galileo's theory of objects in gravity fields in a vacuum, showing gravity acts equally on all objects regardless of their mass. Scott and Irwin also discovered of the Genesis Rock
, a piece the moon's primordial crust, formed only 100 million years after the solar system itself.
The mission was a spectacular success, publicly called "One of the most brilliant missions in space science ever flown"
. The crew was lauded and their future with NASA seemed assured.
Then the stamps hit the fan and Apollo 15 became the first US space crew that was ever fired.
The problem began years ago, back at the dawn of the space age. Philately, or stamp collecting, produced a subgenre, astrophilately
, which specialized in studying stamps and postal history that were related to astronomy
Since the early part of the 20th century
, the US Postal Service has been issuing postal stamps to commemorate American milestones in space. Examples include stamps for:
Palomar Mountain Observatory
, commemorating “first light” of what was then the world’s largest telescope
, the “father” of rockets
, the first communications satellite
The Mercury program
, America’s first man in space program
, the followup up to Mercury and precursor to Apollo
As more people became interested in the hobby, postal covers, cachets and cancellations were added to the types of items marking events or milestones. Covers were particularly popular. With a cover, an envelope with words and art would be mailed on the particular day of an event, thus postmarking it for historical purposes.
The first chimp in space, Ham
John Glen, first American to orbit the Earth
, first manned launch of the program
, first American EVA or “spacewalk”.
The Apollo program marked a particular zenith of astrophilately, with official stamp covers being included on flights
. Apollo 15 contributed to this practice, with 243 official stamp covers
. But the crew also carried an additional 400 unofficial covers on the flight
through a deal made with German stamp collector, Hermann Sieger.
The terms of deal were this: upon completion of the mission, 100 of the unofficial covers were sold to Sieger for $7,000. Those 100 covers would be sold sometime after the Apollo program ended. The remaining 300 were to split among the 3 astronauts to use as they wished.
Problems arose when Seiger began selling his portion of the covers after the mission ended, not when the entire Apollo program ended, as previously agreed. When the astronauts learned of the sales, they returned the money to Sieger and asked him to cease selling the covers, but were ignored.
Eventually the sales became public, prompting Congress to call for investigations, citing the issue of personally profiting by US government employees. NASA demanded and received the covers from the astronauts, then pulled the crew from their backup duties on Apollo 17. They were all placed on administrative leave and not so subtly told they’d never fly in space again. Investigations by the Justice department, Congress and NASA found that neither federal laws nor NASA regulations were broken.
Dave Scott and Al Worden worked at NASA research centers for several years before moving into private business. Jim Irwin, moved by walking on the moon, completely left NASA and formed the High Flight Foundation
, a Christian organization designed to spread the Word of God. He died in 1991, due a heart attack, purposes due one of the other negative firsts of Apollo 15, the heart problems Irwin had during the mission
. Had he been on Earth would have placed him an ICU for a heart attack. Since he was in pure oxygen and weightless or low gravity environment, NASA doctors decided he was in the best possible place he could be for a heart attack and never informed him or the crew of the problems until some point after the crew returned to Earth.
As to the unofficial covers, they remained with NASA until the early 80s. In 1983 Al Worden filed suit against NASA for return of the covers, citing the partnership between the US Post OFfice and NASA to sell covers
flown on the US Space Shuttle. The courts agreed and the covers were returned to the astronauts.
All three members of the crew have written autobiographies and mentioned the incident within. Scott offers a view different from NASA’s
, Irwin never publicly commented, just shrugged his shoulders about it in his book and moved on, while Worden echoes
Scott’s sentiments of raw deal. They weren't the first crew to profit by unofficial means, they were just the first to bring large scale notice to the practice.
How much are the covers worth today? Between $10
1: Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (The Penquin Group, 1994), p 408